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Bass Clinic in Switzerland

with Edith Hofmann

I was very excited when I heard the announcement on the radio  that Alain Caron would be coming  to Zurich, Switzerland that day to do a bass clinic concert. I just couldn’t wait for the evening to come so I found myself in front of the small jazz club„ 'Jazzbaragge' hours before the show,  to avoid arriving at a sold-out house.

Several weeks ago I started translating articles and interviews into German for Globalbass. It turned out that the very first interview I dared to tackle was the one with Alain Caron from the March issue. So I was very eager to see this particular bassist live, having taken such an intense look at his work and career while doing this translation.

So here I was and there he was at the 'Jazzbaragge' with his two six string F basses, a fretted one for slapping and, of course, the fretless bass for his guitar-like solo playing. He was using Eden Amps provided by the importer and Bass-Center Zurich. Soon the club was filled with bassists and a few guitarists and one drummer. (Ok I confess, I convinced my drummer to join me; but he almost fell asleep during the English spoken explanations of methodic and practice on the E-Bass!!).

English is a foreign language to us as German-Swiss but eventually even the linguistic barriers broke down . Right from the beginning the atmosphere in the room was very warm, this great Virtuoso spoke to us in such an unassuming manner that it 'broke the ice' very easily.

Needless to say arpeggios and pentatonic scales are unavoidable basics not only for bassists but for any musician playing a harmonic instrument.  Once you've worked out a scale, the next goal usually is to work that scale to the point where it is as fluid as possible. But who of us likes practicing this stuff hour after hour? It's very easy to lose track of the final goal and instead just settle for the familiar and the easy.

That’s where Alain intervened by saying that you should always know exactly what you’re playing,  the name of each note and of course its function  within the scale. He went on to say that you had better think faster than you play, or play just as fast as you can think. And of course you can play all these scales etc. with rhythmical variations, different emphasis and fingerings. Also to not  forget that you should be able to play any scale from any starting point and in any position. He went on to say that it is also very important to be able to play all exercises with different fingerings. Not always starting with the same finger! While on the subject of finger positions,, Alain himself plays with three fingers instead of only two as many bassists tend to do. He plays using ring, middle and index finger in this order, to get a fluent, round movement. Also, when Alain changes from a lower to an upper string, for example from the G string to the D, he plays both notes with the same finger as double bassists do.

As far as slapping is concerned Alain also has developed a unique technique. After having slapped down with the thumb he pops the string up again with the thumb nail on the way up, and whilst most bassists do the pops with either the index or middle finger he plays them using both. These two techniques together result in double time to the conventional slapping method and allowed Alain to both lay down a groove with his thumb and then play a melody around that by using his index and middle finger.

Between the various technical explanations, which he showed us on one of his F-Basses, he entertained the audience by playing a prerecorded song using his sequencer and then accompanying it live. It’s incredible how fast he can play and still find the right notes, specially on the fretless bass. However, once or twice he did fall out of time and had to wait for one or two bars to find his place within  the piece. In these cases he stood just there with a mischievous grin on his face, as if to say, "Oops! Ok, so I am just a human being!"

I believe I can speak for all the bassists present that evening in saying that it had been a truly exciting, instructive night hosted by a sympathetic and approachable teacher. The evening was made possible by the organization and sponsoring of Gabriel Pellizzola from Bass-Center Zurich-Altstetten. My warmest thanks to this enthusiastic bassist for an unforgettable event!

So, did I succeed in waking your interest to learn more about the bassist and human being Alain Caron and his exciting musical development? Check out the special feature interview on his new Solo-CD, Call me Al in the March issue of Globalbass.



Edith Hofmann



  Read this article in German





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